Brian Karl
Wandering Writer

February 20, 2020

Tensegrity Radio Mast. Photo: Wei Wang

Down the road simmered a continuing struggle demonstrating against labor exploitation in higher education: different sets of interference in the valuing of idea exchange, on one side, and of business as usual on the university campus, on the other. Meanwhile, at a seldom-used bus stop, individuals and small groups of wanderers arrived to cross an old, low, and mostly rusty barbed wire fence to leave the busy thoroughfare and enter into the vast Mima Meadow.

Whistling Tea Kettle. Photo: Amy Franceschini

After lifting a giant custom-made wooden tripod to raise high aloft a glass sphere teapot, folks gathered around the alembic shape, which, after a time, offered a thin but distinct whistle, higher pitched over the rush and small roar of an invisible gas flame sounding underneath. Amy F. welcomed all and introduced key individuals and ideas on the way to commencing this latest in a series of wandering seminars.

Radio Distribution Backpack. Photo: Jin Zhu

Anna then de-programmed expectations about what radio could bring – proposing we seek not the conventional broadcasts that proliferate over the airwaves but instead the relative quiet when same or related frequencies of transmitter and receiver are aligned, which encourages harmonic interference. This produced also static and squeal when humans, antennae, and apparatus of battery, transmitter and other sources of electromagnetic radiation were brought into proximity of one another. After the intense whirring as we hand-cranked a dozen or so portable radios plucked from the two custom pocketed backpack frames made especially to transfer them into our grasp, we launched across the field with the dials of our radio receivers set and reset to mostly avoid the signals of programs deliberately broadcast for listening.

The dozen or so sets of radio operators’ fingertips tuned and retuned volume and frequency dials, while our own larger frames gamboled across the field in playful and distracted pursuit of the handful of transmitters that had also been distributed among several other operators, fanning out and bunching up in small congregations as we made our way across old desire trails and small patches of lower muddy wetlands to pause in an extended intense burst leaning into two larger radio units set on the ground and emanating broadcasts of raucous noise and signal. With greater physical abandon, like ritual performers of mind-bending rock feedback and distortion and/or shamanic ritual, we leaned into the larger radio generators and one another’s handheld sets to discover what was radiating subliminally all around and through us before moving on to a new gathering spot.

Photo by Amy Franceschini

There, moving us beyond the limits of diffraction, Renata helped us bend reflections to focus together within a “circle of least confusion” how we might interfere in the distortions of light through the material actualities of atmosphere for greater clarity or so we could at least differently perceive the waveforms and frequencies of a more distant perfect plane of images from far-off stars.

Photo by ooooo

Leading the way to criss-cross sensory modes from audio to visual and back again, Marijke and Yasi channeled the data of diffraction from Renata’s telescoped star imagery as sources for sonification – and our gathering circled around noise music played out of portable radios, further oscillated live with the spontaneous turning of a tone knob back and forth by Andres. Several others re-activated first their handheld radio units to elicit again whistles and squeals and static from the ether and then various mirrored surfaces to further reflect ephemeral beams and rays of light on the enormous wooden antenna mast set up halfway back across the field – our final gathering point before we returned to nearby the fence to gorge on a lovingly made feast of fruit and cake and wraps.

Photo by Amy Franceschini

Many eventually wandered back to campus, where the struggle to support the transmission of ideas among creative thinkers continued on a site re-dedicated to research over and over again both in recent and ancient generations.

Photo by ooooo

Originally from old French, the word “interfere” draws on ideas of “to strike against” or “exchange blows,” which by the 16th century had eventually modulated to the figurative sense of "to meddle with, oppose unrightfully."

Brian Karl
Wandering Writer

February 20, 2020

We crossed borders many times this day – roads and fences demarking various limits of campus and property – and one takeaway was the realization that “order” remains a significant part of “border,” and vis-a-versa. With the efforts by graduate students to obtain support for a livable wage continuing on campus down the road, the question of who sets which borders for whom else resonated as open questions embodied in our own movements.

..Bus Shelter. Photo: Amy F

Informing those movements at the outset, Janette first set out a series of prompts to question deficit views of order/disorder – encouraging us to imagine architectures that wouldn’t rely on spatial concepts of difference/sameness, that would complicate modernist narratives of design for health; that might better track how inner subjectivity and outer physical space co-constitute one another while making room for atypical subjectivities.

Bus Sheler, 2D Photo: Amy F

Albert’s historical perspective on UC campuses pointed to signs of design partially outside usual social spaces yet also both shaping and reinforcing social structures, concepts that Lode further channeled through Foucault’s ideas of heterotopia, along with those of Lefebvre about encounters with others/difference occurring in public spaces. This led well to Amy’s ideas of our group as variously embodying a wandering collectivity, partially distracted, partially refocusing our attentions through a range of means.

Some of us walked backwards, and others donned prosthetics to shift our senses of the world (manufactured conical shapes occluding vision, which prompted individuals to pair up, with one acting as visual guide; circular reflective masks with a center hole cut to heighten olfactory cues (as did sprigs of rosemary plucked from nearby and held in front of noses)), others periodically blew sounds from idiosyncratic instruments of pvc pipe and stitched canvas, while still others carried aloft a flexible mobile wooden bus stop frame over borders of fence and hill and bridge and parking lot and stairway.

Photo: Amy F
Photo: Amy F
Photo: Amy F

In the parking lot of Kresge College, we heard first from Sophie about the winning tale of the cooperative gardening project that struggled with poaching squirrels who helped themselves to vegetables grown there and marauding administrators who proposed re-locating the garden just a few hundred feet away – but disregarding the generations of soil nourishment and care that had cultivated the original garden area (not the first time bureaucracy fails to see the permaculture and seedlings for the forest they would tear down). As she spoke, an unmarked police car circled us in the parking lot.

Next Albert detailed the ideals and the actualities in the history of Kresge – both its design, along the lines of a classical Italian town, and its social outcomes, from participants who had originally sought alternatives of pedagogy and other relation-ships that might form in an unusual incubator of exchanges among humans. Despite the tearing down of many interior border walls, the reference to a kinship model for grouping humans to learn and live together seems to have replicated a patriarchal or at least hierarchal structure for mentors to guide others. And of course meanwhile the larger University that the college was set within has formulated newer development schemes that have overwhelmed much of what has flowed in the wake of those early original experiments playing out in Kresge in the 1970s.

Kresge Fountain. Photo by ooooo

Gathering one last time in the dry fountain of Kresge’s interior courtyard, many different voices groped and grappled with what the day’s wanderings had highlighted: some individuals and groups were more able to freely move across, over and around borders than others. Though mostly unthreatening in appearance, the thoughtful and merry band of Seminar Wanderers had occasionally been called out by various university staff charged with maintaining the landscape (“What are you doing?” yelled one young garden worker as our motley crew filed up a meadowed hill. “What are you doing?” yelled one of our number in response. Her reply was quick and commanding: “Working!” And another of our group sallied, “We’re playing!” but this did not seem to assuage concerns).

Earlier Albert had recalled aloud the origins of the word “campus” as a demarcated field, originally the site for multiple institutional activities in ancient Rome – where military forces gathered on the edge of the city and population census were taken -- and the idea of the modern university campus borders creating fields of knowledge production generating certain kinds of subject formation that have histori-cally centered on health and productivity, while the edginess of those sometimes contested borders are valuable signs of difference still possibly emerging.

Photos Jin Zhu

Top Photo: UCSC Postcard, Ansel Adams. Photo: ooooo


Amy Franceschini

February 21, 2020

Messages from the Universe

I work on light moving around the universe – light being bent by a very foggy entity both conceptually and in reality called Dark Matter - one of the main components of the universe. It is one of the greatest mysteries in physics together with dark energy. Dark matter bends the paths of approaching light rays leading to effects that we study and measure to understand it.

- Alexi Leuthaud, Observational Cosmology, Astronomy & Astrophysics, UCSC

In a dark room, a fog of bodies laid on the floor with cloth masks filled with California Sagebrush. The scent of the the flora grouded our journey into deep space. A field of signals filled the room; a wavering whistle produced by the steam of a boiling tea kettle, the cracking and deep hum of a synthesized profile of atmospheric distortion and a flickering red light that periodically slipped under our masks. The blue flame under the kettle faintly illuminated the room and the mirrored surface of the kettle reflected the entire scene.

As the field of signals faded out, the small group of participants rose from the ground into a circle of seating around a low table of optical tools illuminated by observational cosmologist, Alexi Leuthaud:

"That is the universes' message to us today…

You have made a connection today between the sound waves and the translation to light waves we were just experiencing. I study light and light signals from the universe.

Light is the signal that we get from the universe.
Light from stars,
Light from galaxies,
And, Light is also a wave.

There is an intimate connection in terms of the wave properties between sound and light. And thinking about the signals coming from the sound waves we received, there was a lot of pitch which is interesting because some of the signals we see from the universe or galaxies are also signals that change in pitch, but you have to disentangle them from all the other "noise" that is going on."

And that "noise" is just what we were listening to: A Field of Place, a composition which Futurefarmers invited sound artist Marijke Jorritsma and synthesizer builder, Yasi Perera to create.

As light moves from deep space towards earth, it encounters the atmosphere as a "fog" which "disturbs" the light waves. When astronomer's telescopes receive this light upon an array of mirrors, the mirrors are moved in an attempt to correct this "disturbance" or "interference" in order to get a clear image for viewing and analysis.

Jorritsma and Perera used data provided by the Adaptive Optics Laboratory (UCSC) to create a synthesized profile of "atmospheric distortion" resulting in a sonic composition.

And Belgian-based hacked together a tool which involved a red laser beam pointed at a mirror which was glued to a rubber membrane stretched over a speaker. A translation of sound waves into light waves moved around the room illuminating a silver-coated tea ketttle mounted on a 14-foot tripod. Futurefarmers Wandering Kettle is a glass blown globe vessel coated by UCSC Adaptive Optics Laboratory using the same substrate used to coat mirrors for the "largest telescopes". This "relational object" brings together two sensibilities; its' form suggests the here, the now and the dailiness of drinking tea and its mirrored surface invites us to refelct on the human desire to reach beyond our bodies to "see", "to know"...

Further transmission: The field of signals moving in this dark room were broadcast live via KZSU, the student-run radio station based at UCSC. Station manager, Duncan Ober installed a mobile broadcasting unit in the room and secured and 2 hour afternoon slot to extend the experience to listeners outside, on the ground and other.

KZSU Mobile Broadcasting Studio. Photo: ooooo

Alex: What kind of proof are you looking for? Is it visual?

Alexi: We are not looking for visual proof. We are analyzing the data to try to convince ourselves. We have already convinced ourselves that it is there. So we are trying to understand what it is and how much is out there. We have seen it, but what is it?

Amy: How have you seen it?

When I say "see" I mean we have seen it in "the data" and one of the data that has very strong evidence is called the Cosmic Microwave Background – it is a form of light – very old light – coming to us from the universe – when it was only it was only 300, 000 years old - today it is 13 billion – and imprinted in that light we see the signature that dark matter was present in the early universe. So that is one of the key ways to "see" dark matter. We have other ways, when we study galaxies and we weigh them, they are much heavier than they should be so they have extra mass. One of the pioneers of this study was Vera Rubin.

Benner: What is Energy?

Alexi: Light is a form of energy and dark energy is a form of energy kind of like light. Physicists think that empty space has energy- we call it the energy of the vacuum - and that energy could explain dark energy. That is being proposed, but the strength of that is way off by a huge number – 10 to the 24tth. So the energy of the empty space cannot explain dark energy. But we wish it could. So it is some other form of energy that has a very unique property. We say it has a negative pressure. It is pushing on space, it is causing space to expand and accelerate, which is having a dramatic impact on our universe right now, but we do not know what it is.

Marthe: It seems a sort of quest to find this dark energy. It comes from cosmology, from understanding, so it is a quest, you encounter it… but it is in the past?

No, it is now. There is Dark matter all around us (probably). And there is dark energy all around us. There are lots of particles that we do not see or experience – an example is neutrinos and the same is true for dark matter that is bouncing around everywhere. We do not sense it because we are sensitive to electromagnetism and dark matter does not interact with light. That is why we call it dark. And it probably will not interact with any of the matter that we see here around us today. It is not a question of frequency as that it just does not interact.

Example, if I have a window and I shine a light through the window and the light will go through the window. It is almost like it doesn't see the window. But if I throw a ball at the window, the ball will see the window and come back again. So dark matter is not going to sense the presence of the other matter. The reason we say that is that dark matter is never going to send us light signals. Unlike stars that send us light so we can see them.

Lode: Is there a relation between Dark Energy and Dark matter? Like mass and energy.

Alexi: Mass and energy are related and sometimes they can transform and sometimes we can transform energy into matter and matter into energy. In this situation, we think they are manifestations of two different things. So dark matter is one thing and dark energy is a different thing because of the way they behave in the universe is very different especially the way they spatially congregate is very different. Dark Matter is (probably) a kind of particle- something similar to the particles that make up our bodies except a particle that has very different properties. And it happens to be the dominant component of matter in the universe. Dark energy is very different because it is a form of energy. It is a lot more diffuse than dark matter. Dark matter forms these structures and in those structures live galaxies and in those galaxies there are stars and planets and human beings and possibly other forms of life. But dark energy is more a form of energy that spreads through the universe and has an impact on how the universe is accelerating- expansion of the universe. Conceptually if you were to ask which is foggier, I would say, Dark energy is foggier. We have ideas about dark matter, but Very few ideas about dark energy.

Lode: So if the vacuum is full of energy, could it also be full of matter?

Alexi: If you go down to the smallest scale of empty space. Quantum froth is the energy of empty space making particles and those particles disappearing again. Particles can randomly come into existence and to do this they steal energy from empty space. And they can also randomly disappear and return energy to empty space. But energy is conserved in this process.

Changing the Path of Light

A lot of what we have talked about today relates to the bending or (changing of the path of) light. I will present a few forms of bending of light:

A mirror: If you shine a light at a mirror, the light comes back at you. This is reflection.

A Prism: a glass structure.
One of the first people to use a prism was Isaac Newton who made important investments in optics. He found that if you shine a light through a prism, you get a rainbow. You might have seen this in the little crystals in windows that make rainbows. What is happening is that sunlight is coming through and the sunlight is composed of light of many different wavelengths – red, green, blue. And that light is being dispersed into a rainbow and that process is called refraction. The properties of glass are different than the properties of light and the speed of light is changing when it enters the glass and that speed will change depending on if it is red or blue or green light and therefore it makes a rainbow

A cd: When you look at the cd you see rainbows and what is happening is that the cd has many grooves (to store the data). Those grooves are bending light – so ambient light is coming down and is being spread out by these grooves and that is a process of diffraction. When you do that you can see that white light is comprised of individual colors (red, blue, green)– that is what we call a spectrum.

Diffraction Grading
A 35 mm slide with a Linear/Diffraction Grating Film
The film has really fine grooves in it and it bends light as it goes through this medium. Same concept as Diffraction. This time, we point a laser at the diffraction grading – once the laser bean hits the diffraction grading it is not longer straight, it becomes many points of light – you can see that light is no longer going in a straight line and that is the diffraction grading that is changing the path of light.

Diffraction Grading, Photo: Amy F
Sound Becomes Light, ooooo. Photo: Amy F
Diffraction Grading, Photo: ooooo
Sound Becomes Light 2, Video Still: ooooo

You can also bend the path of light by using gravity. This comes to us from the general understanding of relativity. Massive things bend space-time. The visual we often give is a heavy object sitting on a rubber sheet whereby the rubber sheet is deformed. So let's say the heavy object is the Sun or the earth or a galaxy and rubber sheet is the fabric of space. Light is a particle called a photon. Light travels in straight lines, but if it travels on a curved medium, it will follow that curvature. And that is another way of bending light called gravitational lensing. That is my field of specialty- using that curving effect to understand how much mass is there and that is how we try to understand dark matter.

Dark room with Alexi Leauthaud and Futurefarmers Fog Body. Photo: Amy F

Thank you KZSC, Duncan Ober, Josh Zupan and remote collaborator Lusia Cardoza hup at the station.

Artemisia californica (California Sagebrush)gathered during Borders seminar. Photo: A. Kozachek


Brian Karl

Wandering Writer

February 25, 2020

Adolescent Mt. Lion courtesy of Kenneth S. Norris Center for Natural History
Photo by Jin Zhu

Alarm was in the air – both false and borne by evidence – driven no doubt by concerns of different factions maneuvering for position in the ongoing battle of words and bodies about labor rights and compensation on campus. A stuffed juvenile mountain lion – nicknamed Schrodinger’s Cat for the day’s transmissions of the seen and unseen – prompted reports of animal mistreatment by passing drivers as the cat was situated at the Health Center bus stop, pictures of its whiskers communicated through low-bandwidth channels to draw a series of slowly drawn digital images transmitted to tiny screens that tuned in.

SSTV Image of Adolescent Mt. Lion. Photo by Amy F

The whiskers are where accumulations of different forms of the heavy metal mercury are being detected in a long-running tracking project by Peter – tracking across multiple living species how new concentrations of chemicals produced by human interventions in the larger environment are carried by air from sea through fog to change the makeup of all creatures.

Mercury. Photo by ooooo

In addition to Schrodinger’s Cat, long and close looks at lichen also track how that strange composite creature of algae and fungi absorbs mercury from the fog, and we used magnifying lens to get better acquainted with details of many different species of lichen residing on each branch we picked up and passed around in a grove of redwoods just down from the bus stop, after carrying the cat down in its wood-framed glass chamber. Ken rocked our worlds by articulating different ways to understand the life forms of under-studied lichen. It was here in this moment gathered as a circle of humans that we were exposed to and reminded of ideas of symbiotic community, looking and listening intently to how lichens, like humans, are never just individual specimens but both always parts of symbiotic communities of creatures with different purposes that can not only coexist but productively support one another (think of the biome in your gut, Ken advised).

Photo by Jin Zhu
Photo by Brian Karl

Using a set up in the Natural Science labs, Tristan demonstrated how light, color and image were captured early on in photochemical history through the Lippman technique from more than a century before. We plunged deep into the soap bubble edge of the physical world to better understand how reflection and refraction could be translated into a psychedelic approach to generating prismatic rainbows coloring images such as…Schrodinger’s Cat.

Photo by Jin Zhu

In-between, campus maintenance and security staff, on high alert perhaps due to heightened concerns about actions related to the continuing strike about labor on campus, were called in by passersby of the boiling tea kettle raised on its high wooden tripod in a small plaza nearby. Proving again what a great conversation piece the tea kettle can be. We lowered it to lower and safer altitudes after Peter demonstrated his Teflon fog-catcher – another detection system for how particulate matter might be life-threatening as well as life-informing, while we held a dense rock of cinnabar, another demonstration touchstone from which mercury has also been scraped by humans. As the cat was carried to the lab for the last phase of this wander together, canvas flaps came down over its custom wood and plexiglass palanquin to cover the creature from our eyes and those of others who might become further alarmed by its uncanny image.

Fog Harvester, Science Hill. Photo by Amy F
The Sea Inside the Kettle. Photo by Amy F


Fog Wedding

Amy Franceschini

February 25, 2020

Leila Kaplan and Embodied Ecology: A comedy about acorn woodpeckers in the foggy oak woodlands of
Pogonip. Photo by Jin Zhu

"Calling all humans, animals, bio and trans, men and women, transgender bodies, mutants, voices and survivors. You are invited by Futurefarmers, Beth Stephens & Annie Sprinkl •e to celebrate the leap year of love and together, form •a liquid community to marry the Fog!" These were the words of inviation for Fog Wedding: A Re-eroticism of the Universe initiated by Futurefarmers and Elizabeth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle of the E.A.R.T.H. Lab

A fog of bodies rolled in from the coast, tumbling onto the Great Meadow, a gathering site for two lines of force within radical feminist art where ecosex is enacted and medico-judicial categories of sexuality (homosexuality / heterosexuality) are troubled. Among an assembly of humans and animals, bio and trans, men and women, transgender bodies, mutants survivors, witnesses, ring bearers... Beth Stephens and Annie Sprinkles initiate a ceremonial bond to the fog – together a re-eroticism of the universe, a calling into question the hierarchy of species, definitions of sexuality, and the political stratification of the body.

On this day, 80 people married the FOG, each with a curious accoutrement or sculptural appendage; fog catchers, a bench for the warry, a dozen fog horns, a whistling tea kettle, song lyrics and more. A taxidermied mountain lion poised upon a bier and a table of lichen were carried along as witnesses to this special fog event. An "ecosexy woodpecker performance", sound art, Uni sang a song in Chinese, and seeds were spread along the path. A day to remember. At the reception was cake, bouquet toss and 1:1 scale oragami, and Lady Monster wore a fog costume and gave lap dances. We will never see fog the same way again. But as a partner/collaborator/beautiful-bitch/mysterious lover...

Guillermo Galindo honored us with a marriage counseling piece.

Marriage Counseling: Guillermo Galindo. Photo by Jin Zhu

"Important: Wear Grey on top layer and a solid color underneath, " were the instructions on the invitation to the Fog Wedding. As the sun set into the horizon and the fog rolled in, the procession of bodies peeled off their top layers of grey and blossomed into a colorful, prismatic happening.

Before lowering our coloful bodies into the infamous sinkholes, a suite of fog horsn fashioned fom pvc pipes and funnels accompanied these these words:

"We wish to acknowledge the students, the faculty, the service workers, the tax-payers, the non-humans, the air, the ocean, those who dwelled on this land before us, the soil beneath our feet and especially the coastal fog. On this leap day of leap year, we dedicate this wedding to those who have been part of the struggle to protect and define a truly just and public education. We see this act of marriage as a counter-space, a shared moment to acknowledge the local, physical phenomena of fog and its possibility to mystify, transform, disolve and reappear."

Fog Horn Assembly. Futurefarmers + Berg. Photo by Futurefarmers

Into the Void, Sophie Lev. Photo by Futurefarmers




I Becomes We

Amy Franceschini

February 27, 2020

Coming soon.